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Providence of A Sparrow: Lessons from a Life Gone to the Birds Hardcover – September 3, 2002

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H is for Hawk
Grief stricken in the wake of her father's death, Helen Macdonald seeks comfort in adopting his passion, falconry.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 296 pages
  • Publisher: University of Utah Press; 1st Edition edition (September 3, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0874807425
  • ISBN-13: 978-0874807424
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,099,774 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

In this heartfelt, warm, and entertaining memoir, Chester describes in minute detail the changes that a tiny English sparrow has imposed on his living quarters, his daily routine, and, most significantly, his emotional life. Found as a featherless baby that looked like "a testicle with a beak attached," the sparrow is named "B." Quickly, the daily routines of Chester and his wife come to revolve around their new roommate and two subsequent boarders, bonded male finches. Their upstairs floor is turned into an aviary, and the couple often plays sparrow games. Chester's turns of phrase are colorful, humorous, and memorable, as when he describes the relationship of the sparrows as an example of "homofinchiality." Highly literate and filled with personal ruminations, avian research, and literary allusions, Chester's writing style sets this book apart from other animal memoirs and recommends it for an audience with above average reading skills. Suitable for large public libraries and academic libraries with natural history or animal behavior collections.
Cleo Pappas, La Grange Memorial Hosp. Lib., IL
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.


"Chester offers us a curiosity, a contemplation, a substantive diversion into the providence of a remarkable creature named B. If Thoreau had not gone to the woods, but had instead invited a sparrow into his house, he might have written this book instead of Walden."—Ron Carlson, author of At the Jim Bridger: Stories

"Providence of a Sparrow is a charming and touching memoir, a welcome addition to the venerable literature treating the love between animals and people. At the same time, it is a thoughtful look at the study of consciousness and the search for meaning in life, and its rational approach will appeal to even the skeptical non-bird-lover."—Alison Baker, author of Loving Wanda Beaver: Novella and Stories

Customer Reviews

All I can say is that you should read this book.
Books from Elaine
Incidentally, the book also taught me a lot about birds -- from their neurological structure to their adaptations to life both indoors and out.
R Piper
Chester's true story about his life with the incredible house sparrow he raised and loved will stay with you long after you close the book.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on February 17, 2005
Format: Paperback
I bought this book on a lark. Typically when I do such things I go unrewarded. I am pleased to say that that this time I was rewarded. Chester is a great writer who is loony about birds, or maybe just cuckoo. Regardless, the story is very genuine and presented in a non-sappy manner which is much appreciated in our world of over-produced drivel. Whether or not you lovebirds I recommend that you swiftly go out and buy this book. Unless you are a solitaire old curmudgeon I think that you will read this and then go crowing to all of your friends about how good it is. Now excuse me while I creep back into my hole.
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34 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Julia Webber on December 19, 2005
Format: Paperback
I came across this book by complete chance- I didn't even know it existed until I found it staring me in the face from an endcap at the local bookstore. I was quite suprised that someone had written a book about raising house sparrows. I found my first house sparrow when I was 12 years old, and then raise 2 more that had been abandoned. My experience with the birds was strikingly similar to Mr. Chester's. He does a wonderful job in illustrating the fact that dogs and cats aren't the only animals that can be intelligent pets with personality. Most people seem to think that anyone who dotes upon a bird is a bit wierd, after all "it's only a bird." "Only", indeed.

Be aware that this book is a memoir, not a textbook. Mr. Chester does talk about himself. A lot. That's what people do in memoirs. But he certainly does include a wealth of information about sparrows in general, and his bird in particular. The reviewers who claim otherwise did not read the book (and admitted this themselves.) The book is about not just a bird and not just a man, but also the relationship between them and how this relationship made the man's life infinitely richer. "Providence of a Sparrow" shows that even "pests" and "junk birds" (as house sparrows are commonly called) have value. I hope that people who have never had a relationship with one of these birds enjoy the book as much as I did.
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43 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Reading Reverend on April 3, 2005
Format: Paperback
The factual inaccuracies by Jack Crenshaw in his review of this book cry out for correction. I am a retired Lutheran minister, and I have read this wise and lovely memoir twice. Once for myself and once to my wife who is legally blind. I can say in no uncertain terms that Chester is NOT an atheist -- militant or otherwise. In fact, near the end of the book, he specifically refers to himself as agnostic. Nor does he ever say or even imply that people who attend church are, in Mr. Crenshaw's words, "misguided idiots." Chester does take issue with religion being "pitched" like any other commodity. As he puts it when referring to slogans on a sign in a church parking lot near his home, "It would appear that institutions charged with maintaining the intangibles of spirit and morality feel they can no longer rely on either the depth or beauty of their core beliefs in order to remain competitive, resort instead to the expedient of vacuous catch phrases tarting up their parking lots." This sounds to me like a defense of religion, not a condemnation of it.

I must also address the previous reviewer's assertion that this book contains no information about birds. Had Mr. Crenshaw actually read the book through, which by his own admission he did not, he would have found a wealth of information about birds in general and about house sparrows in particular. And yes, there is a good bit about Chester's life, but why shouldn't there be? "Providence of a Sparrow" is, after all, the story of a deep and tender relationship which develops between a man and a sparrow. The book couldn't very well be a tale of a relationship unless both of the principal players were described. I sincerely believe that Chester does this in a balanced and thoughtful way.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By greenbeaned2 on March 19, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Oh my! I finished this book yesterday and I can't find the words to describe how much it's meant to me. I wish I'd known "B." I wish the same about the author, his wife and the "friends" that live with him in his home. I'm not over it. There's this need to know more and to comfort the author somehow. His words were so tender, so descriptive. Many, many times I would sit back...grinning or pondering his words. I disagree with those who declared the book needed an editor. The way it's written is part of its charm. I looked forward to the way it was "woven," back and forth. I always felt I was right there with him. I wept last night but I wouldn't have deferred reading his book for the world. I thank him for telling B's story. All life is noteworthy.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Grey Ghost on March 2, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Don't be deceived by the title. This would be a gem of a book even if it WERE only about the author's life-altering relationship with a house sparrow. Fortunately, "Providence" is so much more, and ultimately so much more satisfying, as it roams with humor, poetry, candor and intelligence over many aspects of the author's life--his marriage, childhood memories, his struggle with depression, the death of his father, his philosophy about life and the afterlife, and so on. I alternately laughed out loud, cried, and nodded knowingly--sometimes within the space of a single page; I read passages aloud to my wife, who found it equally hilarious, poignant and profound. Chester's word choices are often unexpected--exquisitely so--and the cadence of his prose is captivating. "Providence" is, simply put, one of the best books I've ever had the pleasure of reading.
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